underaged units of production
November 1, 2010 Leave a comment
While talking about the Industrial Revolution, Bill Bryson writes,
Hargreaves’s machine doesn’t look like much in illustrations — it was essentially just ten bobbins on a frame, with a wheel to make them rotate — but it transformed Britain’s industrial prospects. Less happily, it also hastened the introduction of child labor because children, nimbler and smaller than adults, were better able to make running repairs to broken threads and the like in the jenny’s more inaccessible extremities. [emphasis added]
Then later, while talking about a period prior to the Industrial Revolution, he writes,
For most human beings, children and adults both, the dominant consideration in life until modern times was purely, unrelievedly economic. In poorer households — and that is what most homes were, of course — every person was, from the earliest possible moment, a unit of production. John Locke, in a paper for the Board of Trade in 1697, suggested that the children of the poor should be put to work from the age of three, and no one thought that unrealistic or unkind. The Little Boy Blue of the nursery rhyme — the one who failed to keep the sheep from the meadow and the cows from the corn — is unlikely to have been more than about four years old; older hands were needed for more robust work. [emphasis added]
The first claim matches the established wisdom — the version first promoted by 19th-century socialists and conservatives, a version that Austrians such as F.A. Hayek and Ralph Raico taught me to be skeptical of. The second claim seems to contradict the first claim — seems, in fact, like it could have been plucked from a libertarian essay disputing the established wisdom. What am I missing?